House-Senate disagreement sinks domestic violence reform

The two feuding sides on a domestic violence reform bill reached a compromise Wednesday — but a new objection coming out of left field sunk the effort and the bill.

A coalition including law enforcement, domestic violence shelters and a conservative activist organization had come up with a proposal to get rid of outdated language in domestic violence laws. Under the current language, fighting roommates could potentially draw domestic violence charges, while a dating couple who didn’t live together might not qualify.

The proposed version, making violence between couples in a “dating relationship” count as domestic violence, passed the Senate but met difficulty in the House, which preferred language referring to “persons living in the same household.” Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, then successfully put on language restrict that to “persons of the opposite sex” living together.

When a conference committee of the House and Senate met to hash out the differences Wednesday morning, however, the two opposing sides had come to an agreement.

“We wanted to narrow that scope of household to an actual relationship,” said Kaiser. “Quite frankly homosexual relationships wouldn’t be covered, and I feel they’re domestic relationships, when they get assaulted and beat up, they deserve the protections everybody does.”

The compromise, which was also endorsed by law enforcement and the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, would have defined domestic violence as including people “who are or have been involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship.”

“Whether we like to admit it or not, domestic violence occurs when you have a relationship,” said Dianna Miller, lobbyist for the Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. “It does not always have to be a married relationship. It does occur in a dating relationship, and we can’t ignore that.”

Kaiser agreed.

“I believe that language really hones down the scope for law enforcement and really puts the appropriate take on what a relationship is,” he said.

But two members of the conference committee weren’t on board.

Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, argued that people accused of domestic violence are “guilty until proven innocent.” He proposed abandoning the proposed definition change and instead removing the language that requires law enforcement to arrest someone charged with domestic violence.

Giving law enforcement discretion about whether to arrest people charged with that crime would solve the problems related to the definition of the crime, Heinert and Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton said.

“The ramifications of getting tagged with a domestic violence is more than just a protection order,” said Stevens, a family law attorney. “We don’t have this problem at all… if we give our law enforcement the discretion to do the right thing.”

Other legislators disagreed.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City and a retired police officer, said before domestic violence charges required arrests, “no one got arrested.”

“We went in the same house six times a night and told them to break it up and get on with their lives, and they continued to beat the crap out of each other,” Tieszen said.

Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, urged the committee to pass the compromise, and then consider the mandatory arrest issue next year, if Stevens and Heinert wanted.

But Stevens and Heinert weren’t swayed. They voted against the compromise amendment, which got three yes votes and two no votes but lost because amendments need support from a majority of each house.

Afterwards, Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, gave up and moved to kill the domestic violence bill.

He and Miller said they were disappointed and upset with the bill’s failure.

“We have left them now with a law that now we’ve done nothing with and is confusing and will cause more problems than if we had narrowed the definition,” Miller said. “I think there are issues out there people aren’t being honest about and bringing up.”

This is the second year in a row that a proposed domestic violence reform fell victim to disagreements between the House and Senate. Last year a similar bill went to conference committee, but compromise language failed to get House approval.

School sentinels bill passes committee 5-4

A proposal to let schools arm volunteer “sentinels” to protect against threats is on its way to the South Dakota Senate.

The school sentinels bill, House Bill 1087, passed a key Senate committee 5-4 Friday, and needs only approval from the Senate to head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law.

Under the proposal, school boards could vote to arm sentinels provided local law enforcement approved and the sentinels underwent training with the state.

Rural schools, located far from local law enforcement and without police resource officers, want the proposal’s flexibility, advocates said.

“If we think we’re immune in South Dakota from school violence, we should probably think again,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City. “Our local school officials and local school boards need to be making a decision about the security of their schools.”

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, and other supporters emphasized the local control.

“For the schools that do not want ever to have anybody armed… they should want this bill,” Craig said. “It is this bill that guarantees that they make the decision to never have anyone armed.”

But what Sen. Larry Lucas called “the (key) issue of the 2013 legislative session” has plenty of opponents. Most major school groups testified in opposition, saying the sentinels program was risky and unwanted.

Jeff Marlette, a general in the South Dakota National Guard and the superintendent of the New Underwood School District, lamented that South Dakotans would now ask if “our state has gotten so bad and so dangerous and so unsafe that we must now attend school in an armed fortress.”

Lobbyists for the state’s school boards and school administrators proposed an alternative, to set up a task force studying school security. If that task force recommended school sentinels, they said, they could support it, but saw the current proposal as too rushed.

“This amendment would give you another option to talk about school safety,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “Let’s put a task force together that’s made up of these stakeholders and bring recommendations so school boards could have options to look at.”

But the committee rejected that amendment, with members questioning whether such a task force would produce new mandates and objecting to the last-minute nature of the proposal.

The Senate committee did make several changes to the proposal, notably removing a section added in the House that kept decisions about the sentinels program secret.

Tieszen, the prime sponsor of the bill, endorsed that change.

“This must be a publicly made decision,” Tieszen said.

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, supports keeping the decision private. He said it would keep would-be attackers in the dark about which schools were and were not defended, and thus provide more protection to everyone.

Once a district has adopted a sentinels program, decisions about it — such as which people were armed — could be made behind closed doors.

Another change might be coming in the full Senate. Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said he’s interested in specifying that voters can refer a decision to create a sentinels program to a public election.

Senate passage isn’t assured, with many lawmakers skeptical. Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, suggested the sentinels bill wasn’t necessary because volunteers could be deputized by their local sheriff to defend the school.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said he likes the concept but has too many unanswered questions.

“If we’re going to do something like this, I need to feel more than reasonably confident that we’ve covered all our bases,” Brown said.

But supporters said the sentinels program is both needed and well-thought-out.

“I don’t think anyone has promoted this as the ultimate solution to the problem we face,” said Rhoden. “But it is a step.”

Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, said it was a good proposal that keeps decisions with local government.

“What I like about this bill is its permissive nature,” Lederman said. “This bill will maximize local control.”

Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, lambasted schools for opposing the local option.

“Do you just want the softballs? Do you just want the easy decisions?” he asked school representatives. “When it gets tough should it come back to the Legislature? Make up your mind.”

The Senate must take action on the sentinels bill by March 5, though it has yet to be scheduled for debate. Because the Senate has amended the version passed by the House earlier this month, the House would then get another vote, to either approve the Senate version or try to negotiate a compromise.

Craig said House members will likely be divided on whether removing the secrecy provision is a good move.

If the Legislature approves the sentinels bill, it will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who likes the concept and is studying the proposal’s specific details.

How will Senate State Affairs vote on ‘sentinels’?

Earlier, I speculated about what the decision to send the school sentinels bill to the State Affairs committee instead of the Education committee meant for its fate.

Yesterday, I did something better: I checked on each of the members to see what they thought about it.

A few of them were on the record with opinions about the bill; those who weren’t, I called.

You can read more about the state of the sentinels bill here.

Here’s where things stand now with the Senate State Affairs Committee:

  • Brown: Undecided. Doesn’t have a problem with the “concept” but is “struggling” with a few components of the bill.
  • Frerichs: Doesn’t ”support the bill in its current form,” would need “to change it pretty drastically” to vote for it.
  • Johnston: Has called the sentinels bill premature, saying other discussions of school security needs to come first.
  • Lederman: A sponsor of the bill, has spoken critically of making schools gun-free zones.
  • Lucas: Is “not going to support it.”
  • Olson: Supportive as long as it maintains its local control.
  • Rave: Leaning toward supporting the bill, but is “well aware of the concerns” and could change his mind.
  • Rhoden: Supportive; believes the state should “let the local governing body make the decision for themselves.”
  • Tieszen: Prime sponsor of the bill, has testified for it.

Taking a bit of a leap (some of these statements have been more decisive and clear than others), I’d categorize the committee like this:

Yes votes (4): Lederman, Olson, Rhoden, Tieszen

No votes (3): Frerichs, Johnston, Lucas

Undecided (2): Brown, Rave

With nine members on the committee, the bill needs five votes to pass, and is already one short. If either Brown or Rave votes yes, or one of the no votes changes their mind (without any yes votes flipping), House Bill 1087 will probably pass out of committee.

Bill forbidding federal gun restrictions passes SD committee

A bill opposed to “all dilution and diminution of Second Amendment rights" is headed to the South Dakota Senate.

Senate Bill 207 passed the Senate State Affairs Committee 8-1 Wednesday. It’s a “legislative finding”, a declaration of the Legislature’s opinion, that declares “the Founding Fathers freely and willingly abjured all legislative and executive authority to regulate gun ownership and usage, as well as the related issue of the maintenance and armament of state militias, to individual citizens and the states respectively.”

It also directs the state’s attorney general to “be vigilant and proactive in protecting, by litigation if necessary, the rights of South Dakota and its citizens against all dilution and diminution of Second Amendment rights from whatever source and by whatever means.”

Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said the bill is “designed to be a constructive, conservative and reasoned reaffirmation of our Second Amendment rights.”

Attorney General Marty Jackley supported the bill “based on its appreciation for the Second Amendment.”

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, worried that the language in the bill was overbroad. 

"My understanding of constitutional law is that all of our constitutional rights are subject to balancing by the courts and subject to some reasonable restrictions," Tieszen said. "It seems to me to be a little strong and contrary to what i understand our constitutional rights to be."

But Jackley said his reading of the bill in its entirety was that it did not prohibit regulation. He referred to the phrase in the bill opposed to “federal initiatives directed at the restriction of gun ownership and the right of self defense”, not reasonable regulation.

Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, was the lone no vote. Lucas said the bill would end up entangling South Dakota in costly lawsuits against the federal government.

'Social host' bill defeated again

Sen. Larry Lucas’ second attempt to pass a bill punishing adults who provide space for underage drinking fared no better than his first, but he said he was upbeat over an “olive branch” offered by an opponent to the bill.

Lucas’ Senate Bill 225 made it a misdemeanor for adults who keep or maintain a place for underage alcohol consumption. Dubbed the “social host” bill, it had the support of Attorney General Marty Jackley but ran into a wall on the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Such a bill, Lucas said, is necessary to deter underage drinking, which he argued is a major problem in South Dakota. Many parents provide spaces for their children to hold parties with alcohol, he said. SB 225 would deter that, and, by extension, underage drinking, Lucas argued.

But members of the committee disagreed. They worried the bill was poorly worded and would expose property owners where underage drinking occurred without their knowledge.

"We have a clearly identified problem in South Dakota that needs to provide a solution," said Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center. "I don’t believe this is a solution."

Six of the nine members of the committee voted to kill SB 225 Monday. But before the vote, Rhoden offered another route for Lucas — a legislative study this summer examining the broader issue of underage drinking.

Lucas, who said education is key to combatting underage drinking, said he appreciated that suggestion and would pursue such a study.

Lucas reintroducing ‘social host’ bill

After his bill criminalizing people who provide spaces for underage drinking died in committee, Sen. Larry Lucas said he was going to try again, possibly through a smokeout.

Today he says he’s going a different route: reintroducing the proposal, possibly with some minor changes, before Monday’s deadline for bill introduction.

He’s keeping it as a Senate bill, meaning it could be back in front of the same committee that rejected it by a single vote this week.

Anyone smell smoke?

Yesterday Rep. Steve Hickey said he was considering smoking out his speeding ticket points bill.

Today two more bills got defeated in committee that I hear might have smokeout attempts:

If school sentinels gets voted down Friday, or the open carry bill tomorrow, both of those issues are very likely to face smokeout attempts.

Most smokeout attempts fail, of course. But they’re fun to watch. I’m looking forward to the floor theatrics.

Social hosting bill fails by one vote

A bill criminalizing adults who provide a space for underage drinking died in committee Wednesday morning, but the issue may not be gone.

By a single vote, the Senate State Affairs committee rejected Senate Bill 94, the so-called “social hosting bill.”

That would have made it a misdemeanor for adults to provide a space for a party where they knew there would be underage drinking.

Supporters include Joyce Glynn of White River, whose son died in a car crash after she let him go to a graduation party with alcohol. 

Glynn said this bill would help prevent underage drinking and prevent future alcohol-related teen fatalities.

“This social host bill will give law enforcement officers another tool they can use to keep our kids safe,” Glynn said.

But committee members worried the bill was poorly phrased and wouldn’t actually help many people.

“My concern is that all too often, as we run across cases, we want to rely on legislation to be the sole answer to keep our children safe,” said Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg. “Ultimately, when I look at Senate Bill 94, I don’t see that particular proposal having much of a deterrent effect.”

Despite SB 94’s defeat, sponsor Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, said he’s considering using a parliamentary maneuver to revive the bill on the Senate floor, or to reintroduce a new bill on the subject before Monday’s bill-submission deadline.

“I don’t think the issue’s done with at this point,” Lucas said.

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